Crash 'could have been avoided'

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 29 September, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 29 September, 2011, 12:00am


Tuesday's crash on Shanghai's subway system has triggered a surge of fear and anger among mainlanders, with most pointing fingers at the government for the nation's public transport safety woes.

Rail safety experts said the accident, together with the high-speed train crash in Wenzhou just over two months ago, had exposed weaknesses which, if they had been taken seriously by the authorities earlier, could have been avoided.

Professor Ai Bo, deputy director of the State Key Laboratory of Rail Traffic Control and Safety, said yesterday that the Shanghai accident had exposed a series of well-known problems involving equipment, technology and management in the construction and operation of the mainland's passenger rail transport system.

The accident, in which 280 passengers on the Line 10 trains were injured, should not have happened if these problems had been addressed, said Ai, also a professor at Beijing Jiaotong University.

'For example, if we set up a system to enable trains to communicate directly with one another, we could have an anti-collision system similar to those on commercial airlines and avoid crashes, even with the failure of the central control system,' he said.

Ai said he could not reveal more details about the problems because he was not authorised to expose design, manufacturing and maintenance flaws publicly, but he believed that the Shanghai subway authorities were ultimately responsible.

'The metro runs at 80km/h, maximum. That leaves less room for excuse than high-speed rail,' he said.

Li Jie, a commuter on Beijing's subway, said that like many of her fellow passengers she was worried about the safety of the capital's subway system after hearing the news from Shanghai.

'As soon as I squeeze on to a train, I firmly grab a hand rail with both hands and stand in a rigid pose so that, regardless of whether a crash comes from ahead or the rear, I am somewhat prepared,' she said.

'Those standing at the centre of a compartment make me envious. They have the protection of a thick layer of human cushions.'

Shanghai's subway has had many problems in the past few years but they have been shrugged off because none of the previous operational glitches resulted in deaths or injury. On July 28, a malfunctioning signal device cause a train full of passengers to reverse an entire stop. The equipment supplier escaped punishment, saying a similar accident would not happen again.

Professor Xie Xiaofei, a Peking University psychologist, said the public had good reason to feel angry and fearful - even if they did not take the subway often, they had parents, relatives or friends who did.

'In most people's mindset, the metro is run on mature technology. Such kinds of public transportation have been running in other countries for many years without much problem,' she said.

On the internet, many people expressed their fury. 'Should the same mistake not be corrected before it is repeated 100 times in the blood of ordinary people?' one blogger wrote.

Professor Zhao Jian, a Beijing Jiaotong University economist, said that the Shanghai subway accident should not be used to argue against the development of subway systems in other mainland cities.

'Public fury will decline over time,' he said. 'People will realise, sooner or later, that more than 74,000 people are killed on the roads in this country every year. The death toll on metros is zero.'